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Biden's U.N. nominee vows to curb China's "authoritarian agenda"

CBS News logo CBS News 1/27/2021 Pamela Falk
Linda Thomas-Greenfield et al. sitting at a table: Biden © Carolyn Kaster / AP Biden

United Nations — Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Joe Biden's pick to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday "that effective diplomacy means more than shaking hands and staging photo ops." In Thomas-Greenfield's prepared testimony at her confirmation hearing, released in advance to CBS News, she vows to work closely not only with America's foreign partners, but to "develop a strong partnership" with lawmakers in Washington to push a unified agenda.

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a person wearing a suit and tie: President-elect Joe Biden listens as his nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, speaks in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 24, 2020. / Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP © Provided by CBS News President-elect Joe Biden listens as his nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, speaks in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 24, 2020. / Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

The U.S. will take over the rotating presidency of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council for the month of March, allowing President Biden and his new secretary of state and U.N. ambassador to pursue U.S. objectives by setting the agenda for the global powers on the Council. They'll use that opportunity, in part, to try to reverse the Trump administration's antagonistic approach to global affairs.

"If Linda Thomas-Greenfield is confirmed, she can expect a very warm welcome from other ambassadors at the United Nations," Richard Gowan, U.N. director of the International Crisis Group, told CBS News. "America's allies at the U.N. really want to start working constructively with the U.S. on climate change and COVID-19 after the tensions of the Trump era."

U.S. priorities

In her testimony to the Senate committee, Thomas-Greenfield lays out three "key priorities": 

"First: Our leadership must be rooted in our core values: support for democracy, respect for universal human rights, and the promotion of peace and security. Second: We must have the courage to insist on reforms that make the U.N. efficient and effective, and the persistence to see reforms through. And third: As U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, I would seek to develop a strong partnership with this committee, which I have had the great pleasure of working with often throughout my career in the Foreign Service."

She also singles out China, stressing that if the U.S. choses to walk away from the international negotiating table on a range of issues, other nations, with very different viewpoints, could fill the void.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Expert on U.S.-China relations under Biden 03:33 © Provided by CBS News Expert on U.S.-China relations under Biden 03:33

"We know China is working across the U.N. system to drive an authoritarian agenda that stands in opposition to the founding values of the institution — American values. Their success depends on our continued withdrawal. That will not happen on my watch," Thomas-Greenfield says in her prepared remarks.

The agenda, and challenges

If confirmed, Thomas-Greenfield's agenda at U.N. Headquarters will be a full one.

President Biden's decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and the U.N.'s World Health Organization, and his interest in negotiating a way back to the Iran nuclear agreement, would all fall squarely on her plate, along with the perennial concerns of addressing mass-hunger and poverty around the world, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She would play a role also in getting the "New START" treaty on nuclear weapons control between the U.S. and Russia formally extended before it lapses on February 5.

In Asia, Mr. Biden has said he hopes to rekindle the stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, and his newly-confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken made one of his first calls on Tuesday to South Korea to further that goal.  

Gowan, of the International Crisis Group, noted that Thomas-Greenfield would, "face serious tensions with both Russia and China at the U.N., and Beijing gained a lot of influence at the U.N. in the Trump era."

Both of those countries hold permanent seats on the Security Council, giving them the power to veto resolutions pushed by the U.S., but Thomas-Greenfield was to make it clear on Wednesday that she intends to muster the full power of American diplomacy to work toward U.S. goals.

"When America shows up — when we are consistent and persistent — when we exert our influence in accordance with our values, the United Nations can be an indispensable institution for advancing peace, security, and our collective well-being," she was to say.

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